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Lazy Designs and Whining Engineers

August 4, 2011

It’s probably somewhat true that engineers often aim for the easiest solution. But an interesting requirement can sometimes lead to a brilliant engineering solution. We shouldn’t shy away from the tough questions, the untried, the difficult.

A recent survey shows only 1 in 5 auto engineers are “very confident” of hitting the new CAFE mpg numbers. The Whitehouse and automobile manufacturers came to an agreement of a 54.5 mpg fleet average fuel efficiency by 2025 recently. I’m not sure how much this can be stressed that this was a voluntary goal between the administration and private corporations, not a government mandated law. I find some of the comments they chose to publish from the engineers to be most amusing.

“The 65-mpg (3.6 L/100 km) car may be acceptable or even preferable to a radical environmentalist, but shifting today’s SUV mom to a 55-mpg (4.3 L/100 km) vehicle may be more difficult,” a survey respondent says.

“Anytime government regulates industry, the outcome is usually disastrous. (Government regulators) are pushing for electric cars that are not feasible except possibly for urban commuting unless there are major new technologies developed that address range and costs. Ultimately, the government will drive the market to subcompact cars to support their agenda,” a respondent says.

They do admit that some respondents are optimistic, think the industry is capable of adjusting, and think it will spur new, creative design. I guess I’d be in that camp myself. Again since this isn’t a law or government mandate, I think arguments on that point should be moot. Did auto makers agree to these standards so they wouldn’t have to face government regulation in other ways? Maybe. But they should likely know that the Republicans and tea party members who did an effective job at using a debt default as a hostage are unlikely to pass even minimal mileage increases. Larger auto manufacturers might have actually seen this as a business advantage for them to resist smaller manufacturers much in the way health care companies supported much of the Health Care Bill because the compliance requirements played to their strengths.

I’d like to imagine similar responses to other moments in history and technology development and have produced some humorous hypothetical comments.

The average Joe can’t afford to pay for fancy meat that a guv’ment inspector has determined has no rat feces in it. We’re perfectly happy with our food the way it is and excess regulations to make it healthier will only overburden average people and put food prices out of their reach.

We don’t have the materials necessary to go to the moon. It’s just impossible. It’ll be too expensive and won’t fit the continued cost cutting measures of manufacturers.

Government regulation of rockets and space travel will be detrimental to the economy and our society. The average parent is thinking about how to feed their family not how to get to the moon. Government mandates have never worked well for anyone and will be too expensive and hurt consumers.

Making cars heavier and adding airbags only makes cars more expensive. We just don’t have the technology to make cars safer and still make them work and offer them at a price that companies can still profit at. The materials are just not there and the manufacturing is out of our reach.

What do you think about the new voluntary CAFE regulations, catalyst for new engineering and technology solutions and within our grasp? Or somehow evidence of a massive government conspiracy to turn us all into hippies?

(Photo via Ibontxo on Flickr)

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